Living or Non-living?

Author(s): Linda Akiyama (adapted from SEP Architecture of Life -"What Is Life?" Lesson)

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5

Subjects(s):

Biology/Life Science, FOSS-Related

Topic:

Common Functions of Living Things

Big ideas(s):

All living things share common characteristics. Living things are made up of one or more cells, use energy (which includes nutrition, excretion, respiration), grow and develop, reproduce, and respond to their surroundings (which includes movement and sensation).

Vocabulary words:

reproduce, feed, excrete, grow, sense, respond, respire, cell

What you need:

  • 1 basin of 3 specimens from the list below for each pair of students. Pairs will have different combinations of items: one alive and the other either confusing or not alive. It makes for a very interesting discussion if some objects are given to multiple pairs, but paired with different items.
  • Extra specimens for students to choose from who have finished early.

The following are possible specimens to use. Feel free to come up with your own ideas and vary which specimens are grouped together.

Not Alive
Heat Pack,  Compass, Weasel Ball, Battery Operated Toys, Baking Soda & Vinegar, Drinking Bird, Rock

Alive
Bacteria/Mold Plate, Worms, Plant, Isopods, Yeast Bottle, Fungus, Worms, Goldfish, Elodea/Aquarium Plant, Potato or Onion with roots

Confusing
Seeds, Dried Yeast, Moss, Lichen, Pieces of Wood, Corn Cob, Carrot, Pinecone, Cut Flower, Soil, Shell, Plant Bulb

Non-living materials are available at the SEP Daly Ralston Resource Center (K 118, K137, K138)

Grouping:

Pairs

Setting:

Classroom

Time needed:

One class period 40-60 minutes

Author Name(s): 
Linda Akiyama (adapted from SEP Architecture of Life -"What Is Life?" Lesson)
Summary: 

Students will investigate different objects and discuss whether they are alive or not alive. Students are challenged to provide evidence for their decision and defend their opinion.

This is the second lesson of a unit (What are Living Things and How does a Living thing Respond to Its Environment?) that was designed to precedes teaching the adopted FOSS unit on life sciences. In this unit students are given time to think about and discuss the fundamental question, "What is a Living Thing?" They are also introduced to a method for doing their own science investigations on the topic of how different living things interact with their environment. The unit ends with students deciding on a testable question, designing an investigation, doing the investigation, collecting data and drawing conclusions. Students then create poster presentations of  their investigation and findings for a grade level science fair.

Prerequisites for students: 

Students will be able to list some characteristics that all living things have in common. See Lesson "What Do Living Things Have in Common?"

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Students will use a class generated list of characteristics of living things to identify objects as living or non-living.

This lesson also allows students to practice: 

1) Building a community of scientists
2) Thinking critically and being skeptical
3) Constructing an argument and defending a position

Content background for instructor: 

Living things are made up of one or more cells, use energy (which includes nutrition, excretion, respiration), grow and develop, reproduce, and respond to their surroundings (which includes movement and sensation).

Getting ready: 

Gather objects and place two objects in each basin as described above. Have enough basins for each pair of students.

Have extra objects for students who finish early. This may include a candle to light if there is a volunteer to light the candle and have a discussion with students who are finished. 

Lesson Implementation / Outline

Introduction: 

 

  1. Share with students that their task today is to try to identify objects that they are given as either living or non-living things.
  2. Review the class generated lists of characteristics of all living things created during the prior lesson. Review any vocabulary on list that are new to students. Remind students that this is just our initial list. They can use the characteristics that they agree are common to all living things to help them identify objects that are living or non-living.
  3. As students look at the objects, ask them to think if there are any new characteristics to add or if they question ones that are already listed.
Activity: 

Explain activity and distribute basin of objects to each pair of students. Hand out record sheet (attached). 

Investigation in pairs:
1) Examine your objects.
2) For each of your objects, discuss the following questions:
a) Is this a living thing? If I think it is, why do I think so? What is my evidence? (focus on what you can directly observe). What does it have in common with all living things?
b) Is this a living thing? If I thing it isn't, Why do I think so? What is my evidence? (focus on what you can directly observe). Does it have anything in common with all living things? How does it differ?

3) Write down your ideas.

4) Choose the object about which you have had the most interesting discussion, and be prepared to present your conclusions about whether it is alive or not. Your conclusions should be supported by your observations.

Report Out:

Post directions on board
1) Reporter 1 holds up object and describes it to the rest of the class.

2) Reporter 2 answers the following:
a) Did you and your partner decide that the object was alive, not alive, or are you not sure?
b) What is your evidence for that decision?

Checking for student understanding: 

Encourage students to question and challenge each other during their discussions with partners as well as during their report-out. Depending on the age of your students, you might want to model how to ask clarifying and/or skeptical questions. Sentence starters can be displayed: 

Why do you think that?

What made you decide that?

But what about ______?

How does that fit with your decision that ____________________?

Questioning each other does not only challenge students to think deeper but also models that it is the nature of science to encourage researchers to be skeptical of one another’s findings. Questioning also allows students to become accustomed to defending their positions with evidence.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

Revisit the class generated lists of characteristics of all living things created during the prior lesson. "After today's lesson, decide if you still agree with all the characteristics we have listed as common to all living things. Spend a few minutes discussing this with your partner. Is there anything you would add? Is there anything that you would remove from the list?"Have students who want to add or take away expain why. See if there is class agreement, and if so adjust list.

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

This lesson is part of the unit, "What Are Living Things and How does a Living Thing Respond to Its Environment?" It follows the lesson, "What Do All Living Things Have in Common?"

Reflections: 

I have found that for students to have a good understanding of the structures and functions of living things and how they adapt to environmental changes, they must first have an opportunity to reflect upon and discuss their  basic understanding of what a living thing is. That is the primary goal of this lesson and the lesson that precedes it.

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Living or Non-living lesson p. 2.doc25 KB
NGSS Topics
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
3-LS1-1
4-LS1-1
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 

Standards - Grade 3

Life Sciences: 
3. Adaptations in physical structure or behavior may improve an organism's chance for survival. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know plants and animals have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.

Standards - Grade 5

Investigation and Experimentation: 
6. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
a. Classify objects (e.g., rocks, plants, leaves) in accordance with appropriate criteria.